The road to recovery

Tony Lange

One woman shares her story of coping with her son’s suicide

Kent State graduate Iris Angle holds a journal filled with memories of her son who died from suicide. She walked from his grave in Chardon to where he died in Phoenix and continues her survivor recovery by journaling, writing poetry, talking and walking.

Credit: DKS Editors

Aurora resident Iris Llewellyn Angle remembers the day her son Eric was born. She already had a little girl – a baby boy completed the family.

Angle also remembers the last time she talked to Eric. He was at a bar watching a Cavs-Bulls game in Phoenix with his sister. He had recently passed the GED test and sounded wonderful, she said.

The next day, an Aurora policeman arrived at Angle’s door.

“The policeman said, ‘We found your son. There was a note and two cigarette butts,'” said Angle, who had just graduated from Kent State the previous year and recently started a new business. “I said, ‘No, that can’t be Eric because he doesn’t smoke.’ I didn’t even know he smoked.”

Earlier that day, Jan. 7, 1993, Angle’s 20-year-old son drove to the desert outside of Phoenix, parked his car, smoked two cigarettes and wrote a note: “First things first, Mom; you didn’t do anything wrong . . . I’m just a loser.” Then he shot himself.

Eric’s pain ended. Angle’s began.

“It was a shock,” said Angle, who was unaware her son was suicidal. She said it took a long time for her dreamlike fogginess of denial to dissipate. She continued to tell herself, “This isn’t really happening.”

“You just think it’s a nightmare, and you’re going to wake up any minute,” she said. “And then you realize this isn’t a nightmare. This is real.”

As many grieving survivors do, Angle wrote to preserve her sanity, she said.

Reality became evident when she awoke from a snooze. Her first poem came to her: “Words swimming in my head. Not so many words need to be said. Can’t say it. Must say it. Shall say it. He’s dead.”

“That was when I realized that this is really happening, that my son is dead,” Angle said. “I had to say those words. That poem helped me face the reality.”

Aside from writing and reading poetry, Angle also discovered other means of healing. Years after Eric’s suicide, she completed a leukemia marathon walk in downtown Cleveland.

“I felt exhilarated and more whole than I had felt in the past eight years,” Angle wrote shortly after. A few weeks later, an inner voice whispered in her ear: “It’s time for you to walk in memory of your son.”

It began on a sunny August day, ideal for a long walk. Angle’s loved ones gathered with her at Eric’s grave in Chardon, prayed and tagged along for the first several miles of her walk.

The planned three-phase journey was to cover more than 2,000 miles, ending at Eric’s death site near Mesa, Ariz.

Nervous and scared about crossing the country, Angle believed God wanted her to do it, not for herself, but for others, she said.

“If I were standing in line at the store with you now, I’d probably talk to you,” Angle said. “That’s the kind of person I am, and God must have known that.”

At a pace often exceeding 30 miles a day, Angle soaked in the beauty of Missouri’s Ozark foothills, the flowing waters in Oklahoma and the boundless prairies of wildflowers in Texas.

“You can really see things when you’re walking and biking, let me tell you,” said Angle, who felt more healed as she passed the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest. “I was getting stronger and feeling good about myself and accepting the fact that my son took his own life.”

Despite several bike flats, resistant winds and faulty road maps, she arrived in Phoenix with time to spare. Two days later, on Eric’s 31st birthday, Angle drove to a far outskirt with grandchildren and loved ones.

“It was a glorious and blessed time of sharing love, memories and joy with my family and friends,” said Angle, who was once unsure how life could go on without the little boy who completed her family. “It took me a long time to be able to understand that and say, ‘Yes, life does go on.'”

Contact social services reporter Tony Lange at [email protected].